What are the latest rules on travelling to the UK from overseas and quarantine? And can you buy property here when you do arrive? We checked through the latest quarantine procedures and the property buying rules for home buyers.
After a very difficult beginning to the pandemic in the spring, this summer and autumn has seen the UK successfully keeping coronavirus cases to a minimum. However, it has done that by imposing strict quarantines for those people coming from countries with high levels of infection, including France, Spain and the USA.
If you’re a British citizen living abroad, considering coming home, read our new guide, Returning to the UK after living abroad. It’s free to download.
Moreover, social distancing rules mean that an estate agent may not be willing to take you around to look at properties in their own car. This can be a problem when you are, for example, trying to view property in cities you don’t know well.
So, what are the latest rules? Bear in mind that the government appraises different countries’ infection rates weekly, usually with an announcement on a Thursday that will be implemented overnight between Friday and Saturday.
Therefore, if you’re in a country that is declared off the ‘exempt list’, i.e. you will need to quarantine from there, on a Thursday you will need to be back in the UK by 4am on the Saturday morning to avoid quarantine.
The British government imposes quarantine on countries where the number of new Covid cases per 100,000, in the previous seven days, exceeds 20.
In the week to 1 September, the UK on 14. For comparison, Spain has 122 and France 54. Switzerland’s cases have reached 25 per 100,000 in the last 7 days and visitors arriving from there now need to quarantine on arrival in the UK, while Portugal, currently on 22, may have quarantine re-imposed from next week.
There are many websites, such as this one, where you can see the general drift of a country’s cases and be able to tell if they are nearing being taken off the exempt list.
UK travel corridors
The list of countries which you can travel from to the UK without the need to isolate (the “exempt” list) is smaller than the ones where you do. The entire list is:
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Barbados, BES Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Réunion, San Marino, Seychelles, South Korea, St Barthélemy, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Pierre and Miquelon, Slovakia, Slovenia, St Vincent and the Grenadine, Taiwan, Turkey, Vatican City, Vietnam.
The final complication is that different parts of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – all have slightly different rules. We have listed the rules for England, but of travelling to other parts to check the government website.
Viewing property in the UK
If you don’t need to self-isolate, or have completed the 14 days quarantine, you are able to view properties and buy one. However, estate agents are using ‘social distancing’ protocols – whether you’re from overseas or the UK – that will make the viewing process a little different.
Firstly, you will be offered a virtual viewing first. Essentially this is mainly looking at pictures, although some will have video walk-throughs. They will want to be sure that you really do have an interest in this property.
How can you ensure you pay a fair price when buying in an unfamiliar market? Read our free guide: How to Negotiate Abroad.
Having assured the agents that you do genuinely have an interest, you will normally have to make your own way to the viewing, as most estate agents won’t take you in their car. Taxis, however, are operating as normal!
Once in the property, you should keep one or two metres from the agent. The vendor will have been asked to open all possible windows for maximum ventilation, to leave doors open to avoid having to touch door handles, and to have sanitised surfaces that they or other viewers have touched.
Other house-buying procedures are being conducted normally. Unlike many countries where you will gather in a notary’s office, most British property buying procedures are completed online anyway. The only other physical process is when you collect your keys!
Countries from which you need to quarantine
As of Saturday 5 September, you will have to self-isolate for 14 days if you arrive into the UK from any of the countries not on the list above.
That includes, in no particular order: the USA, Canada, Spain, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Malta, Monaco, Belgium, Andorra, Luxembourg, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Mexico, Brazil and indeed most of South America and almost all of Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.
You’ll need to self-isolate after arrival from much of the Middle East too, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
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What does “quarantine” mean?
Quarantine, also known as self isolation, is quite draconian. Before you arrive you will need to fill in a passenger locator form (which you can access online here).
If you are found to have breached the rules you face a £1,000 fine.
This is what the government website says about how to self isolate:
“When you arrive in the UK, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you’re staying for the first 14 days you’re in the UK. This is because it can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear. If you’re travelling to the UK for less than 14 days, you will be expected to self-isolate for the length of your stay.
You should self-isolate in one place for the full 14 days, where you can have food and other necessities delivered, and should stay away from others unless you travelled to the UK with them.
This can include:
- your own home
- staying with friends or family
- a hotel or other temporary accommodation
You should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing:
- emergency assistance
- care or assistance, including personal care
- medical assistance
- veterinary services
- certain critical public services
You cannot go out to work or school or visit public areas. You should not go shopping. If you require help buying groceries, other shopping or picking up medication, you should ask friends or relatives or order a delivery.
In England, you must only exercise within your home or garden. You cannot leave your home to walk your dog. You will need to ask friends or relatives to help you with this.
NHS Volunteer Responders are also available if you need help collecting shopping, medication or would like a telephone ‘check-in and chat’. Call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm) to arrange volunteer support. You can arrange one-off support, or schedule more regular help whilst you are self-isolating.